Ever participated in an event strictly to support the cause, only to realize, Hey, that was really worth my time … ?

That’s exactly what Fox Valley Park District officials are hoping to achieve with our Monster Mask Virtual 5K, an event in which portions of the proceeds will benefit Hesed House, the state’s second-largest homeless shelter that sits smack in the middle of our Aurora community.

“I’ve read many articles, and we know the homeless statistics are up due to the pandemic and, quite frankly, one is too high of a number, even under normal circumstances,” said Kara Reid, the FVPD’s athletic program and rental supervisor who’s overseeing the virtual race. “We see this as an opportunity to help contribute to the quality of life for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

“At the same time, it’s a recreational opportunity for families to enjoy. Even if someone isn’t an avid runner, this is a good chance to try something new, all the while knowing you’re making a positive impact on others who are far less fortunate.”

The Monster Mask 5K, which nods to Halloween, along with the current environment in which we live, allows participants to complete the race – either by running, walking or a combo of both – between Oct. 18-31 and submit their virtual results. The registration fee of $25 includes a long-sleeve t-shirt and medal, which are guaranteed if registration is completed by Oct. 11.

As race organizers originally planned an outdoor trail run at Red Oak Nature Center, a pivot was required in July, for it became evident that safety protocols could not be maintained as the pandemic continues to spread throughout the country and community.

“We were optimistic, but also realistic,” said Mitch Bunkofske, an FVPD recreation supervisor and race organizer. “We had to make a call in the summertime, so we could properly prepare for a virtual event in the fall. We also knew we could help support a need within the community – and the choice to donate proceeds to Hesed House was an easy one.”

According to Hesed House Executive Director Joe Jackson, shelter officials braced for a spike in residency at the start of the pandemic.

“While we’ve seen a sharp increase in the need for shelter and our services because of the pandemic, the moratorium on evictions has helped,” Jackson said. “But as this moratorium wraps up come January 1, we’re anticipating the flood gates opening and a massive increase in people experiencing homelessness.”

Hesed House officials converted an adjacent warehouse (to the permanent shelter) into a temporary space that accommodates more residents and enables responsible social distancing. Jackson and his team laid carpeting and added tables and refrigerators to the temporary facility, but the unheated space lives on borrowed time, as winter looms.

Aside from ongoing necessities needed at Hesed House – bottled water, men’s deodorant, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial soap and N95 masks, to name a few – officials have also purchased an existing facility across the street and are in the process of renovating it to a permanent structure before the end of the year.

“That will allow us to provide shelter to 101 individuals,” Jackson said. “Without that, we’d probably end up having to turn people away because our capacity has been cut due to COVID. The money we have coming in is going toward that project or supplies coming in for that shelter, but then also supplies and staffing for our current shelter.”

And that returns us to an event supporting a cause.

Sometimes, it feels like the other way around.

To register for the Monster Mask Virtual 5K, visit foxvalleyparkdistrict.org/event/monster-mask-virtual-5k/.